Genomic and cDNA sequences for the mouse cellular retinol binding protein I (mCRBPI) are presented. A specific cis-acting element responsible for retinoic acid (RA) inducibility of the mCRBPI promoter was identified and characterized. Deletion mapping of a CRBPI promoter--chloramphenicol acetyltransferase reporter gene construct localized this element to a 259 bp restriction fragment located approximately 1 kb upstream from the transcription start-site. A sequence closely resembling the previously characterized RA response element (RARE) of the RA receptor beta 2 (RAR-beta 2) promoter, and consisting of a direct repeat of the motif 5'-GGTCA-3' separated by three nucleotides, was found within this restriction fragment. Mutation of these 5'-GGTCA-3' motifs to GGAGC and GGGGC abolished RA-inducible transcription whereas a mutation to a direct repeat of the GTTCA motif found in the RARE of the RAR-beta 2 promoter resulted in enhanced inducibility. Oligonucleotides containing the direct repeat of the GGTCA motif were able to confer RA-dependent transcriptional enhancement to the herpes simplex thymidine kinase promoter, as well as to bind directly all three retinoic acid receptors (RARs) alpha, beta and gamma, as determined by gel retardation/shift assays. The control of CRBPI gene transcription by RA-RAR complexes interacting with the RARE characterized here may correspond to a feedback mechanism important in regulating retinoid metabolism and action.